LIFE passed as pleasantly as we could hope during the early days of the occupation of our new home. We had soon made things quite ship-shape, and built a good road to enable us to get quickly out of the river bed, and later on we turned our attention to making the squadron we had on duty at Range Post as comfortable as circumstances would permit, by excavating platforms for tents to be placed in and rigging up other shelters of sorts. Our horses were still in very good condition; we had saved back grain when it had been issued lavishly to us at the commencement of the siege, and, for exercise, we took the horses out for about an hour's trot every evening just as night was closing in.
In the day time there was little to do but watch the progress of the bombardment and visit other parts of the defences, while at night we occasionally had concerts.
The officers built themselves a small mess-house close to the river, but their judgment in the selection of a spot was not good, as on two occasions the Klip rose rapidly and swept their wooden constructions away.
On November 20th the Boers varied the monotony of the siege by shelling us at night, and at frequent intervals they repeated this practice. We were endeavouring at that time to open up communication with General Buller's army by means of flashlight signals on the clouds at night, and to retaliate in some sort of way the Boers replied by bursting their shells over the town. Our position in the river bed was, however, safe from anything but an erratic shell; it was invisible to any of the heights on which the enemy had their guns, and though now and again a ricochet would bound over or into the Klip river close by us, there were so many more tempting objects for them to aim at that we felt pretty safe.
On November 24th the Boers captured some 200 of our slaughter cattle as they were grazing near King's Post, and they would have got a good many more if it had not been for some of the Mounted Infantry, aided by our standing patrol under Sergeant Baker, of ' A ' Squadron, which went daily to " Direction Post" on the Van Reenen's road, driving the remainder of the herd back within our defences under a heavy shell fire.
Nearly every day we saddled up and stood to arms in expectation of attacks, authentic reports of which we were daily kept informed of by our local intelligence department.
On November 28th we expected to take part in a strong sortie on Blaubank and End Hills, but the reinforcement of these positions by the Boers altered our plans, and nothing came of it.
On December 2nd an unlucky shot from a gun the Boers had just put up on Gun Hill split up on the edge of the river bank near our camp, and fragments of it alighted among our tents, wounding Private Owen so seriously that he shortly afterwards died of the injuries he had received. We turned out at 8.5 p.m. this night and rendezvoused at the convent with the 5th Lancers and Imperial Light Horse, the 7th and 8th Infantry Brigades doing the same in the town, but apparently it was only a practice affair, and we were sent back to our camps by 1 a.m. the same night. We turned out again on December 5th at 11 p.m., and again returned to our bivouac, but on the night of December 7th we received orders to saddle up at 3.45 a.m. next morning and await orders. At 4.20 a.m. we were told to proceed at once to the examining post on the Newcastle road, and we made the best of our way there with " A " and " C," and what was left of " B " Squadron, leaving an officer and the dismounted men to take care of the camp.
At the examining post we got our orders, and went off with the 5th Lancers down the Newcastle road, crossed the Free State and Transvaal railways at the level crossings with " B " and " C " Squadrons, " A " turning up on the east side of the Free State line to near Bell's Farm. After crossing the Transvaal Railway, " B " and " C " Squadrons turned along the line, while the 5th Lancers, who were accompanying us, went on by the Newcastle road. The Boer guns on the slopes of Pepworth Hill and on Bulwana opened fire on us as soon as we reached the level crossing, but they did no damage. We crossed Bell's Spruit and held the kopje on the left of Limit Hill, between the Newcastle road and the railway, with part of " C " Squadron, while the rest of " C " and " B " advanced back across the line to a low kopje on the west side of it, and a little in advance of the hill the other part of " C " Squadron were on. In the meantime I A " Squadron was guarding the Free State line and our left flank. Beyond these points it was impossible for a small force to advance; there were a considerable number of Boers in the low hills lying all round Pepworth's Hill, and they were momentarily increasing in numbers, and endeavouring to get on to some hills which lay between our centre and " A " Squadron, who were on our left. To repel this attack we sent a part of " B " Squadron, under Lieut. Thackwell, to hold the intervening space, and this stopped the forward movement of the Boers for a time.
At 6.45 a.m. we received orders from General White to retire. The orders for this retirement had reached the 5th Lancers, who were on Limit Hill on our right, some time previously, and our position was becoming a precarious one, as Limit Hill was evacuated, and it completely commanded the position we were in. We were unable with the centre party to re-cross the line at the spot we had originally crossed it by, as the Boers swept the railway with rifle fire from very close range, so we had to keep on the west side till we came to the culvert under which Bell's Spruit runs, and by rushes of a few men at a time, cross there and rally on the Ladysmith side, " A " Squadron at the same time retiring along the west of the Free State line the way they had come out.
By 8.30 a.m. we were all back in camp, where we learnt that a sortie made by part of the " I.L.H." and Natal Carabineers, under command of General Hunter, on the guns the Boers had lately put up on Gun Hill, close to Lombard's Kop, had been a very successful one; two guns, one a Long Tom, were destroyed, and a Maxim brought into camp. This success had saved us a considerable amount of shelling, which otherwise we would have encountered, as our route lay very much exposed to the Gun Hill position. As it was, we had Bulwana and the two guns to our front under Pepworth's Hill to reckon with, and the fire of the Boers in the laagers round the foot of the hill. Our casualties were few until the retirement commenced. " A " Squadron on the left escaped with no casualties, but " B " and " C " suffered considerably from the close fire they were exposed to on the kopjes by Limit Hill, and in their retirement under the Bell Spruit culvert. Two men, Lance-Corporal Robert CI a ridge and Private James McHardy, were killed, and Lieut. Thackwell, Squadron Sergeant-Major Power, Lance-Sergeant Howard, Lance-Corporal Watson, Lance-Corporal Sheehan, Privates Deal, Ewart, Meekings, Webster, Stewart, and Maton were wounded; Lance-Corporal John Weir, Private Leonard Gould, Private William Halliday, and Private Harry Wood-ley were also wounded, and died from the effects of their wounds. Two other men were injured by falls from their horses, which were shot under them, and at the same time we had four horses killed and thirty-one wounded.
It would have been an impossibility to have made a further advance, as the Boers were in considerable numbers in our front, having been rather needlessly put on the qui vive by a midnight raid by a squadron of the 19th Hussars along the Newcastle road, and they were collecting from all quarters. Our objective, the Modder Spruit terminus of the Netherland's Railway over the summit of Pepworth's Hill, was impossible to reach by daylight and with the enemy alarmed. We might perhaps have got to Modder Spruit, but never back again, and we were lucky to escape as lightly as we did. The 5th Lancers on our right had very few casualties, and the 5th Dragoon Guards, with a battery, did not proceed further than the examining post on the Newcastle road.
Most of our wounded were moved as soon as possible to No. 18 Field Hospital, and next day to the big hospital at Intombi.
The report of the day's proceedings, sent in by Major Knox to the Brigade Major, 2nd Cavalry Brigade, is as follows:—
RECONNAISSANCE UNDERTAKEN BY THE 18TH HUSSARS OH 8TH DECEMBER, 1899.
From Officer Commanding 18th Hussars. To the Brigade Major, Cavalry Brigade.
Ladysmith, 8th December, 1899.
At 4.20 a.m. I received orders to take my regiment to the rendezvous, the examining post on the Newcastle road, and at 4.40 a.m. I arrived there and received orders to reconnoitre in a northerly direction, keeping on the left of the 5th Lancers, who were advancing along the Newcastle road, and, if possible, to destroy the telegraph wire and railway. I understood that I was afterwards to more round the west of Long Hill. I ordered one squadron to cross the Orange Free State Railway at the level crossing, about 500 yards north-west of the junction, to keep on my left and close in as we advanced towards the west of Long Hill.
With the remaining 1$ squadrons I proceeded along the Newcastle road, crossed Bell's spruit, and proceeded due north till nearly in line with Limit Hill. At this point we crossed the railway and took up a position with one squadron about 400 yards south of a farm (not marked on map, but situated near a level crossing with white gates) close under Limit HilL Whilst advancing we came under a heavy rifle fire and also fire from two guns, one a Vicker's Maxim. I had previously sent on an officers' patrol, who reported the enemy in considerable strength in a strong position about 700 yards north of the farm before mentioned. I was anxious to ascertain the strength of the enemy, and opened fire from a good position which I had taken up. The enemy now advanced in order to take up a position on a hill commanding our left flank, so I ordered up my remaining two troops I had kept in reserve to move forward quickly and take the hill first. This they did, and opened fire on the enemy at a distance of about 400 yards, forcing them to retire. It was difficult to estimate the numbers of the enemy, but in my opinion there were about 200 in the farm, and in the laagers round about, and the same number some 1,200 yards north-west of the farm.
At 6.45 a.m. I forwarded a message to the general officer commanding Cavalry Brigade, informing him of my position. Shortly after this I received orders to retire, and I gradually withdrew my troops in open order under a very heavy fire, keeping on the west of the railway, and crossing it at Bell's spruit in order to avoid the fire from the Vicker's Maxim gun.
My left squadron proceeded to a point about half a mile north-east of a small farm, which is itself half a mile east of Bell's Farm, where they came under heavy fire and were unable to advance any further, the enemy being in a very strong position. A number of the Boers in front of the squadron were here seen dressed in khaki, and it was difficult to tell whether they were friends or foes. There were no casualties in this squadron, but amongst the remaining 1} squadrons the casualties were :— Killed: Two men.
Wounded: One officer and fourteen men. Injured: Two men who had their horses shot under them. Amongst the horses the casualties were:— Killed: Four. Wounded: Thirty-one.
I should like, in conclusion, to bring to the notice of the General Officer Commanding the gallant conduct displayed by Captain W. E. Hardy, R.A.M.C., both on this occasion and also at the battle of Talana Hill. During the retreat to-day and after the troops had left the position Captain Hardy remained attending to and bringing in the wounded under a very heavy fire directed at him from several points.
(Signed) E. C. KNOX, Major,
Commanding 18th Hussars.
Copy of circular memorandum from the G.O.C., 2nd Cavalry Brigade, on "Reconnaissance from Ladysmith," on December 8th, 1899:-
" The G.O.C., Cavalry Brigade, has expressed his admiration for the gallantry displayed by the Regiment during the reconnaissance this morning, and his regret that so many brave men should have been killed and wounded/*
"Extract from Brigade Orders dated Ladysmith, 11th December, 1899:—
" On the report of the reconnaissance of the 8th inst., rendered by the G.O.C., Cavalry Brigade, the Commander-in-Chief has made the following note:—' I regret the number of casualties, but I was an eye-witness, and it was inspiriting to see the keenness and dash with which a dangerous duty was carried out by officers and men.'"
For some time after December 8th matters were fairly quiet in Ladysmith, the Boers confining their attention to General Buller's army on the Tugela river. On the night of December 10th four companies of the Rifle Brigade, under command of Colonel Metcalfe, took and blew up a howitzer gun on Surprise Hill, but they suffered rather severely on the way back, having fifty-five casualties. This gun was the one which so effectively drove us out of the valley by the Tin camp, and we rejoiced at its death.
On December 14th we could hear distant firing in the Colenso direction, but there was not much of it. On the 15th it commenced again very heavily at about 5.30 a.m., and went on to 11.30 a.m., our spirits rising at first with every round, but the little movement there seemed to be among the Boers round Ladysmith after a time rather damped our ardour, and we began to think things were not quite as rosy as we hoped. Firing went on after 11.30 a.m. in an intermittent manner and then gradually died away altogether, but it was not till Sunday, December 17th, that we gathered information to the effect that General Buller had met with a reverse, and it was a long time before we got a really true account of his fight. Meantime a notice posted in the town to the following effect warned us that we should have some time longer to wait.
SPECIAL NATAL FIELD FORCE ORDER. BY LIEUT.-GENERAL SIB GEORGE S. WHITE, V.C, G.C.B., ETC., COMMANDING.
Ladysmith, 17th December, 1899. The General Officer Commanding Natal Field Force regrets to have to announce that General Buller failed to make good his attack on Colenso; reinforcements will therefore not arrive here as early as was expected.
Sir George White is confident that the defence of Ladysmith will be continued by the garrison in the same spirited manner as it has hitherto been conducted, until the General Officer Commanding in Chief in South Africa does relieve it.
(By Order) A. HUNTER, Major-General, Chief of the Staff, Natal Field Force.
Sunday was always most religiously observed by the Boers, and they seldom worried us on that day with shell fire, unless they noticed that we were putting up a gun in a new site or relying too freely on their observance of the Sabbath by remaining in any exposed position. In consequence the officers generally took advantage of the comparative peace and rode round to many of the advanced works, and had opportunities of witnessing the changes and improvement in the defences as the siege progressed. Most of the outlying works to the north, north-east, and north-west of the town had assumed by this period of the siege some good proportions ; the east of the town towards Bulwana Mountain was flat, open country, excellently guarded by its flatness and the tortuous course of the Klip river which flowed through the valley on that side; the western side, too, towards Blaubank and Onderhook was naturally well defended by Red Hill and the open ground to the west, but Caesar's Camp and Wagon Hill to the southward, the very key to the whole position, eminently natural fortresses in themselves, were left almost as Nature had made them, strong in their own way for those who had immediate possession of them. This we could not help noticing in our rides round Ladysmith, and we marvelled at our own consummate trust in providence, as we had marvelled before at the prehistoric scheme for one of our squadrons to hold Van Reenens Pass, another Cundy's Kloof, and the third the Biggarsberg passes, which was the idea before the war broke out; and again as we had wondered at the rooted objection there seemed to be to make any of the natural hill fortresses, lying around the one place in Natal, which had been, wisely or unwisely, selected as our main stronghold, into modern siege works worthy of the name.
Caesar's camp and Wagon Hill were unique though, even in comparison with the other defences which had been thrown up to guard the approaches from other points of the compass. To an ordinary observer in those days, there was nothing there to prevent the Boers seizing the outer ridge of the hill and commanding the flat top, till their superior numbers had worked their way across the level, if necessary, inch by inch, and when once the hill was in their possession Ladysmith was doomed. That they knew this and intended working on their knowledge was proved to us later on; had they been European foes gifted with the Boers' adeptness in picking our brains, our fate would have been soon settled; the natural discipline of European armies would soon have enabled weight of numbers to capture this commanding position.
A sad contrast between our hopes and our fears revealed itself about this time in the publication of some special orders.
On December 14th special Natal Field Force Orders were issued, providing for the establishment of a flying column, under the direct orders of the Lieut.-General Commanding, which was to carry four days supply, and was no doubt intended to complete the enemy's defeat after their dispersal by General Buller. The 18th Hussars formed a part of the Cavalry Brigade of this flying column, together with the 5th Lancers, 5th Dragoon Guards, and Imperial Light Horse, all under command of Brigadier-General Brocklehurst. On December 17th, however, quite a different tone was given to our orders, and special ones, issued on that day, assigned to all troops their positions in the defences, and what steps were to be taken in case of an alarm, and the flying column orders were put on one side.
One squadron of the 18th Hussars, the one whose turn it was to be on duty at Range Post, was detailed to assist in Section " C " of the defences, under Colonel Ian Hamilton, this section comprising the country between the east end of Caesar's camp and Range Post. The remainder of the regiment was to form, with the rest of the Cavalry Brigade, part of the "reserves." On the alarm sounding (or red lamp being run up on the hill above the Headquarter Office and on Cove Hill) all troops were to stand to their arms, the Cavalry saddling up.
After December 17th the Boers considerably increased their shelling, and on the 18th a "shell from Telegraph Hill gun landed very close to the officers' mess, fragments of rock hitting several officers, but no harm was done. Again on December 22nd an unlucky shell fell in the 5th Lancers bivouac, which was a few hundred yards higher up the river than ours, wounding four officers of that regiment, while another one killed five men and wounded fifteen more of the Gloucesters.
Beyond the shelling there was nothing of note to record about this period of the siege.
December 25th.—Christmas Day was observed in the orthodox Sunday manner by the Boers, with the exception of those who were round the Bulwana gun; they added insult to injury by sending us a plum pudding inside a " Long Tom " shell, the original and proper stuffing having been first removed. We tried our best to supplement this extraneous ration by an extra allowance of anything we could scrape up, so that the men could have a Christmas dinner of sorts, but rations were already running rather low, and it was not possible to make it an elaborate meal.
After Christmas Day the Boers continued to shell us with renewed activity, and one officer of the Devons was killed and seven wounded by a shell which struck a shelter they were using as a mess house.
On December 29th we had very heavy rain, and the Klip river rose at a great rate; the lower part of our bivouac rapidly became untenable, and we had to make very speedy efforts to rescue and remove to places of safety what tents, shelters, and kit we had on our low-lying bivouac. It was a dark night, and the roar of the rapidly rising water was the first intimation we had of our danger. We lost a considerable amount of odds and ends, which there was not time to save, and the officers' mess building was carried bodily away; the tents were knocked down, but the ropes and pegs held them in their places, and when the river went down next day we were able to recover them. Next morning it was necessary to construct fresh ledges higher up the banks of the river to put our tents on, and for a time this kept us busy, as the work among the rocks was very laborious.
Towards the end of December sickness increased considerably in Ladysmith, and the numbers in Intombi Hospital were rising daily; by the 30th they had reached about 1,100. Our own regiment had so far been extremely fortunate, we had suffered considerably from enteric during the year before the war, and had no doubt got a good deal hardened to it, and this, aided by the gravel soil we were camped on, and the great care taken to keep the ground as clean as possible, no doubt saved us many lives. Major Marling had been unwell for a considerable time, and had only just been able to be present at the reconnaissance of December the 8th, and on December 24th he was admitted to Intombi Hospital, where he remained till the end of the siege suffering from a very bad attack of dysentery. Captain Wellby took over command of " A " Squadron in his absence. On January 1st Captain Davey took over command of *' B " Squadron, and Captain Burnett acted as Adjutant for the remainder of the war.
The beginning of the year saw matters moving in much the same strain, and up to the night of January 5th nothing particular happened.
January 6th, 1900, had, however, been decided on by the Boers for their great attack on Ladysmith, and taking advantage of their knowledge of the unprotected state of Caesar's camp and Wagon Hill, they chose those spots for their supreme effort. From our camp we could hear heavy musketry fire at a very early hour in the morning, and we learnt later that they had, about 2.30 a.m., rushed the dismounted piquet of the " I.L.H.," which held Wagon Hill, and established at the same time a firm foothold on the southern crest of Caesar's camp, driving back the piquets of the Manchester Regiment, which were guarding that circle of the defences. The firing continued all the morning, and all the big guns, both Boers and British, which could take part in the attack and defence, joined in at daylight. One battery of ours, with the 5th Dragoon Guards as escort, was sent out at dawn over Range Post; they remained by Sign Post ridge all day with a smaller escort, and though they did not fire very much after they first got out, their presence there served to check reinforcements of Boers from Blaubank reaching their friends at Middle Hill via the " Long Valley," thereby compelling them to make a long detour to do so.
Another battery took up a position in the scrub jungle to the east of Caesar's camp, and from there was able to harass the Boers who were descending the hill on the opposite side of Bester's Spruit to join their comrades on Caesar's camp itself, and they inflicted severe losses on those Boers who attempted this and on others as they retreated. But in spite of these two flank protections, Caesar's camp was being constantly reinforced by Boers pressing up from " Flat-topped Hill," Bester's Farm, and Middle Hill direction.
Though nearly all the " I.L.H." piquet on Wagon Hill were killed at the first rush, a few managed to join a supporting piquet of their own regiment, and these, together with some Engineers, who were engaged at the time in putting up a 4-7 gun of ours on Wagon Hill, managed, though very hard pressed, to hold a part of the hill until reinforcements could reach them. The fight swayed backward and forward all the morning, the Boers being practically in possession of the southern edge of the entire hill all the time.
The 18th Hussars were ordered out at 10 a.m., and proceeded to a little beyond Range Post in small parties, so as to avoid the fire of Blaubank and Telegraph Hill guns. From here " A " Squadron went on to the foot of Wagon Hill, while " B " and " C " remained near Highlander's Post. The advanced guard reported that Wagon Hill was only held by a few of the "I.L.H.," and that the Boers were on the outer edge of the hill, and round the corner to Bester's Farm and on Middle Hill. At n a.m. General Hamilton ordered " B " and " C " Squadrons to return to camp, but at 12 noon they were again sent for to proceed to Wagon Hill. " A " Squadron had in the meantime dismounted and held the extreme western end of the hill, and the slopes towards the nek which lay between Wagon Hill and Middle Hill. " B " and " C " on their arrival were dismounted, and held in support at the foot of the track leading to our howitzer's emplacement. At about i p.m. the Boers made a determined effort to sweep our men off the top of the plateau, and some of the enemy penetrated as far as the gun sangar which was erected near the centre of the hill. Here Major Miller Wallnut, of the Gordon Highlanders, was killed, and the men still on the summit, consisting of small parties of Gordons, Naval Brigade, and I.L.H., being apparently left without a leader, began making their way by twos and threes down the slope on which we had " B " and " C" Squadrons in support. Their retirement soon became a rush, and Major Knox had only just time to order up our squadrons to take their places. This was effected, however, and " A " Squadron extended along the whole of the top, while *' C " took the east end and slopes of the hill, and " B " remained close to the summit on the northern side. At the same time we endeavoured to collect the detachments which had previously been holding the hill, and to send them off to their own regiments.
The rush made by the Boers had, however, been in-effective; those who reached the gun sangar were all killed, and the others for some time after this contented themselves with pouring as heavy a fire as they could on to the hill from all points, especially from Middle Hill and the south-western extremity of Wagon Hill, opposite Manchester Fort, which was higher than our part of Wagon Hill, and which they had had possession of all day. At the same time their gun on Blaubank kept pouring very disconcerting shells into our backs, as the north face of Wagon Hill was completely exposed to its fire. At 3 p.m. two companies of 60th Rifles came to reinforce us, and took up a position on our left, prolonging the line to beyond the howitzer's old emplacement, where they suffered considerably from the fire of the Boers on the south-eastern end of the hill. The day up to now had been very hot and oppressive, but great masses of clouds rolling up from the eastward warned us that a heavy storm was coming, and about 4 p.m. it burst with great intensity over our position. At first it was a typical South African hailstorm, enormous lumps of ice falling, then heavy rain set in for an hour and a half, such a volume of water descending that the most insignificant dongas were rendered impassable torrents for some time after the rain had ceased.
At nearly the commencement of the storm a great number of the 60th Rifles left the firing line, mistaking a command of " cease fire," which had been given them, for " retire," and " B " Squadron, who were in support, were ordered to take their place. The men of the Goth, seeing they had made a mistake, then returned to their original positions. During this storm the Boers slowly moved off the hill, and a gallant charge of the Devon Regiment at the other end of the position cleared off any who were still left in that quarter. The light was, however, very bad, and it was hard to see the enemy retreating in the scrub country below the hill to the southward, nevertheless our men searched the hillside and country beyond with incessant fire, and this, combined with the swollen nature of Bester's Spruit, must have made the retreat by no means a happy one for the heroic remnant of the Boer commandos, who had clung so obstinately to Caesar's camp and Wagon Hill all through that day.
By half-past five or six o'clock the firing had gradually died away to a spasmodic shot or two, and our squadrons and the 6oth Rifles, left in possession of the hill, set to work to make rough sangars all along the crest line, and to arrange reliefs for the coming night. We had been worried by the heat and exertion of perpetually climbing the hill side, a very rocky one, during the earlier part of the day; later on we had been drenched to the skin by the tropical downpour, now we were shivering with cold, the temperature having dropped many degrees, and, to add to our discomfort, water was lying in pools all over the hill, and we had nothing but wet ground to rest ourselves in, no food and no mackintoshes or great coats to keep us warm, and, as the excitement died away, we all felt indeed far from comfortable, though well content that we had done what was required. Parties were sent off to get rations as soon as the fight was over, but owing to the distance we were away and the darkness of the night, they were many hours in reaching us. Early next morning we expected a repetition of the attack, but no shot was fired either by the Boer guns or by riflemen. We were well prepared, as at about 8 a.m. on the night before two squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards had come up as a further reinforcement. Major Gore was in command of them, and as he was senior to Major Knox, the command of that part of the position fell on him.
About 7 a.m. on the morning of the 7th January the Boers appeared from the direction of Middle Hill with a white flag, and we sent down an officer to halt them outside the piquet lines. They wanted permission to arrange an armistice and come to the hill and collect their dead. The armistice was arranged, but their dead were collected by our men and carried down to them on their side of the hill. We collected about forty from our immediate neighbourhood, and carried the bodies of our men who had fallen in the fight at the same time to the Ladysmith side of the hill* Their casualties must have been very heavy, while on our side some 150 were killed and 250 wounded. In the " Eighteenth " Sergeant Henry Webb was killed about 3 p.m. on the eastern slopes of the hill, and Lance-Corporals Gill and Ward and Privates Davis and Bailey were wounded. Major Knox's report on this action is inserted here:—
REPORT ON THE PART TAKEN BY THE 18th HUSSARS IN THE DEFENCE OF WAGGON HILL.
On the 6th JANUARY, 1900.
From MAJOR E. C. KNOX, Commanding 18th Hussars.
To Brigade Major, 2nd Cavalry Brigade.
At 10 a.m. on January 6th I received orders to turn out at once and proceed to the foot of Waggon Hill to support the Imperial Light Horse. I proceeded there with one squadron, the remaining 1J squadrons halting close to Highlanders' Post for a short time, and thence joining the leading one at the foot of Waggon Hill. At 10.45 a.m. "A" Squadron, under Captain Wellby, remained at this position while the others retired back to their bivouac post close to Range Post. At 12 noon an order was received for the whole regiment to go to Waggon Hill to protect the right flank and guard the 4.7. naval gun, which was lying on waggons at the foot of the hill, from surprise and capture. "A" Squadron was now sent further forward, to hold dismounted the ground at the foot of Waggon Hill, and towards Mounted Infantry Hill, whilst "C" Squadron, under Major Laming, and part of "B" Squadron under Captain Davey, were kept behind in reserve, the horses being back about 600 yards.
At about 1.30, p.m. we observed that the Gordons at the top of the south-west extremity of Waggon Hill were being hardly pressed, so I at once ordered the reserve (1) squadrons) to reinforce them. Captain Wellby's Squadron was also ordered by General Hamilton to move up the hill to their assistance. The 18th Hussars now occupied the firing line on the right of the position, keeping one squadron in reserve close up to the north-west slope of the hill. At this time there were a good number of Boers at the foot and on the sides of the hill looking towards Colenso, but it was difficult to say how many.
At about 3 p.m. two companies King's Royal Rifles were sent to reinforce us, and took up their position in the firing line on the left of the 18th Hussars. At about 4 p.m., during a severe hailstorm, a large number of the King's Royal Rifles left the firing line (retiring towards the north-west side of the hill), owing, I was told, to the men mistaking the command " cease fire " for " retire." I at once ordered the squadron of the 18th Hussars, who were in reserve, to move forward into the firing line, which they did in excellent order. The King's Royal Rifles, seeing they had mistaken the order, moved forward with the 18th Hussars and re-occupied their position, and the Boers during this period retired under cover of the scrubs round Hesters Farm. At about 7 p.m. Major Gore, 5th Dragoon Guards, took command of the position from me. The 18th Hussars remained in the firing line and spent most of the night in throwing up temporary works to give head cover, as there was none on the hill, and it was most urgently required. During the engagement the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Regiment behaved with the greatest coolness, the men being under excellent control.
At about 9.30 a.m. on the morning of the 7th the Regiment was relieved and ordered back to its permanent camp. Return of casualties, etc., have already been forwarded; 6,731 rounds of small arm ammunition were expended by the Regiment during the day.
(Signed) B. C. Knox, Major, Commanding 18th Hussars.
Ladysmith, 8th January, 1900.
The Boers we met below the hill were very reticent, but it was most apparent that yesterday's fight had told immensely on their spirits. We, in spite of our discomforts and heavy losses, were full of confidence and happy at our success, though we regretted not having been able to inflict as great or greater loss on the enemy with more immunity to ourselves, as we should have done had the defences of the hill been at all adequate; on the other hand, no doubt, the Boers would have fought shy of attacking the position if it had been strongly entrenched, and the fight, a great victory for us, would never have come off.
At II a.m. we collected our bedraggled squadrons and marched back to our camp, but hardly had we got there when we received orders to send up one squadron as a permanent garrison to Manchester Fort, on the western end of Caesar's camp proper, and " A " Squadron, under Captain Wellby, was detailed for this work.
In addition to this, and the squadron on duty at Range Post, we now had also to furnish a piquet of twenty-eight men daily on Leicester Post, where they acted as a reserve to other outlying piquets on that hill.
After the 7th January matters ran their old course; intermittent shelling from the Boer guns and constant alarms of night attacks continued, and an increasing shortage of food for both men and horses set in. The horses indeed were now in a fairly bad plight, which we endeavoured to alleviate by cutting grass for them from the hillsides.
There was now very little real fighting, but on our side greater efforts were made to thoroughly entrench our positions.
Matters dragged on till January 17th, when the sound of heavy gun fire to the south and west put us all once again on the alert. For the next few days firing went on in an intermittent manner, dying away altogether on the 21st, which was a Sunday, and starting again on the Monday morning. It continued in a desultory fashion on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Thursday culminated in what we could no longer mistake for anything else but an attack on the Boer position some way beyond Onderhook. From the top of Caesar's camp we could watch the shells, presumably our own ones, bursting all over the summit of a particularly high plateau on the heights overlooking the Tugela. A Boer laager had been placed behind this hill and on our side of it, and we could easily discern through telescopes the commotion going on inside. The firing continued on the 25th, but as it never got any closer, and the Boer laager remained in its original spot, our hopes did not rise very high. The next day all firing had ceased, and we learnt, on Saturday, fairly full details of the Spion Kop fight.
We had been relying on this second attempt of General Butter, for people who knew the country said that that was the way round, and we knew that if it could succeed, then the Ladysmith garrison would be of some sort of use in the pursuit of the enemy to their own passes. Now we felt a touch of despair; two attempts had tailed, why should not a third? And we did not enjoy contemplating what would be our fate should all efforts to relieve us be frustrated. However, few among us ever allowed our thoughts to rest on that bitter subject. What worried us was the fact that we and our horses would daily get weaker, and we should be of little use to the Natal Army when they did relieve us.
On January 29th the supply of forage had reached such a low ebb that a conference of Cavalry commanders was called to decide what was to become of our horses. As a result of this conference it was resolved to keep 300 Cavalry horses, seventy-five out of each regiment, and the remainder were to be turned out to grass on the outskirts of Ladysmith, under a grazing guard, and driven into kraals at night. This decision was hardly a happy one, as in our regiment and the cth Lancers there were a considerable number of very good horses whose retention in the Army was worth a great deal more than that of almost any of the horses brought over from India by the regiments arriving since the declaration of war. Ours were Colonials and South Americans, the latter thoroughly acclimatised, and hardly ever have a better stamp of horses been in the possession of a Cavalry regiment. They could do any amount of work, and keep fit on a very small allowance of forage, and were, withal, weight carrying horses possessing pace, qualities we tried in vain to find in the many hundred horses we had given us afterwards to make our numbers up. As it was, we were allowed to keep our seventy-five, and the remainder were driven out to find for themselves and to be daily diminished in number as the requirements of the Chevril factory grew more and more exacting. Those that were driven out to graze got unfortunately irretrievably mixed up the first evening as they were endeavouring to drive them back to their kraals, for no proper arrangements had been made for dealing with so large a mob of horses suddenly turned loose, many were lost altogether, and the rest got so mixed up, corps among corps, that it was a very difficult matter to catch and sort them again. We thus lost some of our really good horses which would have been of incalculable service to us at no very distant part of the war.
Captain Davey had had to be placed on the sick list immediately after the fight of the 6th January, and at the end of this month he was in a very critical condition, but he recovered a little in February and slowly got better. Major Marling had also undergone a very bad attack of dysentery at Intombi Hospital, and Lieut. Cawston had shortly to go there suffering from the same complaint. A good many of the non-commissioned officers and men were also beginning to succumb to this most prevalent disease, and already it was rare to find anyone who was altogether in robust health.
On February 1st we left eighty men and horses under command of Major Laming, with Captains Gosselin and Baker, Lieutenants Wood, Clarke, and Cawston, in our old camp in the bed of the Klip river, and marched up the remainder of the regiment, dismounted, to Manchester Fort. Major Knox, Captains Wellby and Burnett, Lieutenants Stewart, Field, Thackwell, Bayford, Dugdale, and Purdey, with Captain Hardy, R.A.M.C., and 226 non-commissioned officers and men, comprised the total we could muster. This included the officers and men of the squadron who had previously been on duty at that post. Manchester Fort was to be our quarters for the next month, and we had to become Infantry for the time being. We were placed between the Manchester Regiment, under the command of Colonel Curran, on our left, holding Caesar's camp proper, and the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, under command of Colonel Metcalfe, on our right, who held the Wagon Hill extremity of the plateau. Their numbers had become so diminished by losses that the Cavalry had to be employed to aid them. About a thousand yards of front on the southern edge of Caesar's camp fell to our share, to be guarded by an almost continuous line of sangar trenches, while behind this line we had supports at night, and on the Ladysmith side of the hill we held Manchester Fort itself, and in a deep cutting there was there we placed our tents and shelters, and withdrew most of our men to it by day.
General Ian Hamilton was in command of all this portion of the defences, and Major Murray, who had been with us at Dundee as General Symon's Intelligence Officer, acted as his Brigade Major.
We found the whole extent of front very badly entrenched, and during all the time we were there, especially at the commencement, we were almost constantly employed in digging and making obstacles, along our front. Manchester Fort itself was a good work, and so were also some others erected on the Ladysmith side of the plateau, but the outer face of the hill gave us constant employment, and the hard nature of the soil, mostly solid rock or huge stones embedded in hard ground, told severely on our men, who were by this time far from robust. The enemy's guns which caused us particular annoyance were a Long Tom on Bulwana, two field guns on a white rocky kopje in the Onderhook direction, and a gun on Middle Hill. The sentry on duty at Manchester Fort had orders to watch these guns, and, when any of them fired, to call out the name of the gun so that our men could take cover accordingly. The Bulwana gun made very accurate practice at our fort, placing two foots running one day right into the fort itself, whose dimensions were a bare thirty yards by twenty, while the range-was close on 8,000 yards. The ninety-four pounder which the Boers had on Telegraph Hill was moved by them to their Tugela positions early in February. Had it not been, its fire would have annoyed us considerably, as it lay direct to our rear, and the deep cutting we most of us lived in did not give so much cover on the Ladysmith slope of the hill.
The rain at this period of the year was very heavy, and we had difficulty in keeping our shelters clear of water, and the outlying piquets at night were often drenched to the skin.
So matters dragged on. One day we heard General Buller's army shelling some part of the enemy's position, the next all was quiet again. On February the 5th he seemed to be making another attack nearer Colenso and close to Keat's drift, and on the 6th cannonading still went on, but died away next day; later on we heard that this was the Vaal Krantz attack. After the 6th there was comparative peace, the Boers shelled us a little whilst we were perfecting our defences, and the usual alarm of night attacks kept us well on the alert. Our duties were heavy. Out of our 226 noncommissioned officers and men we had to keep forty-six every night in the sangars directly in front, forty-six in support, and thirty-eight more in other isolated posts round Manchester Fort, more than half our full strength actually on duty at one time.
It was not till February 23rd that General Buller's army wakened within us more hopeful sentiments. On that date cannonading went on all day, and we soon learnt that our forces had established themselves on Hlangwani and Monte Christo, and this seemed to give us closer touch with the outside world than we had had for a very long time. From the 23rd onward General Buller's army seemed to remain stationary, but reports reached us that all was going well, and instead of the fire slackening, as it generally did after two or three days, it still kept steadily on. The Boers annoyed us in Ladysmith less and less. A large number no doubt had already gone to the Free State and others to repel General Buller's army at Colenso, while even threats of night attacks began to grow less prevalent. Our chief amusement at this period was to watch a twelve pounder naval gun of ours, which was mounted in an emplacement on Caesar's camp, shell a gigantic dam the Boers were making across the Klip river below Intombi Hospital, with the intention, apparently, of flooding the low country to the east of the town.
On February 26th we heard of Lord Roberts' success in the Free State, and on the 27th General Buller's guns were at it harder than ever, and the musketry fire could often be quite distinctly heard. On February 28th, about 2 p.m. in the afternoon, it was reported that the Boer wagons were trekking back to their own countries, and every telescope was at once in request on Caesar's camp and Observation Hill to watch this pleasing sight, and though earlier in the siege we should have liked to have gone after them, we had come to think that to see the last of them was the most pleasing occupation- that could fall to the lot of mortal man. All afternoon, and probably all night too, the long train of wagons slowly trekked along the Van Reenen's road and from behind Lombard's Kop in the direction of Modder Spruit siding, and just as night was closing in some mounted men, part of the Imperial Light Horse and Natal Carabineers from General Buller's army, rode over the drift on the Klip, where the old Ladysmith-Colenso road crosses the river, into the town, and our communication with the outside world was once more an established fact.
The weather was bad all night; incessant thunder and storms of rain went on, while our big guns added to the din, firing away the remnant of their precious store of ammunition at the Boer Long Tom on Bulwana, a prize we had always hoped would fall to our share if the siege was ever raised. But the Boers had very little trouble in removing the gun; our men could hardly have walked so far to prevent them, and the darkness of the night hindered our gunners making accurate enough practice to impede them, and in the morning the gun was gone.
The siege had lasted 118 days, and how much longer we could have stood it is, of course, pure conjecture, for we hardly realised how weak as a fighting machine we had become. This was, however, rudely brought home to us when a small picked force was sent out to follow up the retreating Boer army, for the distance this force was able to cover was microscopically small.
Provisions and forage had been plentiful in Ladysmith at the commencement of the siege, and we had never imagined that under any circumstances could the investment drag on so very long. In consequence we had been rather too lavish at the start, and when the disasters of December came on us, we had to at once commence a much severer course of banting, which, rapidly reduced our strength in the unsalubrious surroundings we were compelled to exist in. January saw all the grain ration ended for our horses, and at the beginning of February it was a question of preserving a certain number of them for food for the garrison, for as we could no longer hope to keep our animals in condition, the best we could do was to keep them alive. At the commencement of the siege we had 288 horses, and up till the end of January we only lost ten, nearly all of these during the reconnaissance of December 8th, while at the end of February we had seventy-one left, so great a number had strayed, died of exhaustion, or been killed for food during the last month of the siege.
With respect to our own rations, the allowance for all ranks at the end of the siege was naturally a very meagre one, as the ordinary ration does not divide up for long in half and quarter shares to yield a satisfactory sustenance. We had always sufficient meat of sorts, but thus qualifying phrase was enough to condemn it, and hard, lean, tasteless meat with no vegetables, its only accessories being bad coffee and mouldy mealie meal, was enough to tell on the strongest constitution in spite of the quite liberal supply of the meat itself. Every man had that pinched look and dull expression on his face towards the end of the siege, which one generally expects to find on those who, having been buffetted about in this world, come to the end of their tether, and do not much care what more hardships fate may have in store for them. Water was hard to get on Caesar's camp, and the want of it soon reduced our men's clothes to a lamentable condition. The soaking rain and heavy work in digging trenches, felling trees, and putting up barbed wire entanglements, dirtied and destroyed their kit, while the rough ground made short work of then* boots. It was a strange sight to contrast the bronze healthy faces and dirty serviceable uniforms of the relieving force with the pale cheeks and the threadbare clothes of the besieged men.
LIFE AT INTOMBI HOSPITAL DURING THE SIEGE.
From the Commencement of the Siege of Ladysmith, from the Diary of an Officer who was there.
We lived a life of absolute monotony, but gradually, as our wounds healed, we were able to go about and do what we could to help the already sorely overtaxed hospital. Of course we got the full benefit of every shot that was fired from " Long Tom " on Bulwana Hill into Ladysmith, and the effect of this on some of the wounded was very bad. Each morning, about 7.15 a.m., the train from Ladysmith bringing us our supplies used to arrive, and at 5 p.m. every evening it returned. By it came what little news we ever heard, the most welcome being news of the regiment. The sick and wounded used also to be sent out by this train, and during the early stages of the siege these numbered very few; latterly, however, when times were blackest, as many as eighty have arrived by this train in the morning. On these days very often they were kept in this train until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and then only dragged out and laid on the floor of some probably wringing wet marquee, which was put up after a fashion by the hospital authorities, and which in more than one instance blew down, and, I fear, ended the career of many a poor man. Several times a recurrence of such a catastrophe was only averted by the strenuous exertions of a few of the more or less sound ones amongst us.
I may here point out that the camp itself was divided into four separate hospitals, viz., one British Station Hospital, two British Field Hospitals (from India), and one Volunteer Hospital The staff of each comprised in the main hospital officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps, assisted by civil practitioners and nurses both army and civil, in the two Field Hospitals, officers of the R.A.M.C. and native attendants, and in the Volunteer Hospital, Volunteer doctors and nurses.
As far as possible the distribution of the sick was as follows:—All serious cases of enteric, dysentery, wounds, etc, were sent to the Station Hospital; slight cases were sent to the Field Hospitals, and all cases of Volunteers to the Volunteer Hospital. From this it will be seen that all the hospitals were entirely separate, separate staffs, separate commanding officers, chaplains, nurses, etc., but the whole were under Lieut.-Colonel Mapleton as Principal Medical Officer. The administration and arrangements in the Field and Volunteer Hospitals were excellent, everything possible being done for the patients; the nurses in the latter simply devoted themselves entirely to their patients, as also did the doctors. No body of men or women throughout the campaign did more service than these nurses throughout the whole of this trying period. I am sure, had it not been for them, with their ever cheery presence and willing hands, the mortality would have been far heavier than it was. No praise is too high for them and no reward could be too great.
The Hospital was situated on either side of the railway, about 3i miles from Ladysmith, at a point where the Klip River, after making a bend to the east, comes back again towards the railway, preparatively to forcing its way through the gorge which lies between Bulwana Mountain and the hills which run on the west side of Nelthorpe station.
In the early days of the siege food was more or less plentiful, but as time wore on we suffered severely from the lack of supervision, and waste that went on during the early period. Our rations, of course, were gradually reduced, as were those of the troops in Ladysmith, and one can readily imagine the effect of a diet of horseflesh, and bread (?), made out of sour mealies, and such similar fare on the emaciated frames of the wretched patients. Scurvy and starvation played terrible havoc, and these, with the addition of enteric and dysentery, were far deadlier foes than any " Long Tom " or other shells. Words fail me when I try to describe the scenes that one strove to avoid witnessing, but to glean any idea of what Intombi was like, one must picture to oneself a vast collection of tents, both large and small, and the same filled to overflowing with men in every stage of disease and illness—the middle of some stifling night in February—the whole place reeking with most nauseating odours—frail skeletons of men, strong in their delirium, fighting and wrestling with gentle nurses—weird groans and sounds from everywhere, and in the morning a mournful procession of men, carrying on stretchers lifeless forms of poor souls, wrapped in Government blankets, to their last resting place, the bearers halting many times through sheer exhaustion during the walk of a few hundred yards which separated the cemetery from the camp. It was a poor look out for any, save those of the strongest constitutions and wills, who got really ill during the latter part of the siege, as in addition to there being practically no food, spirits, drugs, and medical comforts of every sort gave out. It was not a question of getting better, but of being kept alive at all.
As an instance of the force of mind over body, I may mention that the mortality was considerably affected on the days we received bad news, but on the receipt of any reassuring rumours the men seemed to pull themselves together and make up their minds not to die. From this one can gather that our life was one of the utmost monotony, and was only broken by such excitements as midnight salvos, etc
On reference to my diary I find that on the night of the 15th November the Boer guns fired a salvo into Ladysmith, which of course was somewhat disturbing to us, but probably more so to those inside the town. I also note that this was the first date that the relieving column was supposed to be due? Again on Sunday, 19th November, about 12.45 a-m» the Boers made night hideous by firing into the town, and that day those who were wounded in the armoured train disaster at Frere were brought into camp by the Boers from Nelthorpe. Our hopes just about this tune were very high, and the air was full of rumours. St. Andrew's Day was celebrated in the most orthodox manner, though we were forced to make our limited quantity of "Mountain Dew" go farther than one is wont to. At the beginning of December the number of sick that were sent out daily from Ladysmith increased greatly, and this fact, added to the bad news we received about Methuen's reverses, made our spirits drop somewhat.
On 7th December all or nearly all of us who were wounded at Talana, were shifted from the Station Hospital to the 26th British Field Hospital, which was commanded by Major Kerin. I fancy the officer commanding the Station Hospital was somewhat relieved at our departure, as many of us who were well on the road to recovery were rather a trial to him, in so much as we did our best to rectify the errors and omissions of his staff, and thereby, from his point of view, made ourselves generally objectionable.
On Friday, 8th December, we heard the action of Limit Hill in the distance, and the next day heard details of it from the wounded that were brought in, viz., Privates Woodley, Ewart, Meekings, Gould, Stewart, Watson, Maton, Deal, Halliday, and Corporal Weir. These men were all put into one tent, and in the evening there was a fearful storm, and it was only the united efforts of some of us officers that this tent, which had been erected, I cannot say pitched, by some of the hospital staff, was saved from collapsing entirely on the top of some twenty or thirty patients. We succeeded in fastening the tent, however, and the storm, after a while, abated, but I much regret that Corporal Weir and Private Gould both died during the evening.
On Sunday, 10th December, there was much joy in camp as we received some newspapers, dated 5th and 6th December, which supplied us with food for conversation and discussion.
On Tuesday, 12th December, the number of sick and wounded from Ladysmith reached sixty-three, and this number was much exceeded the following day, causing congestion and discomfort in camp.
On 15th December heavy firing was heard in Colenso direction, and it continued for five hours, but on the 18th December our hopes, which were somewhat high, were dashed to the ground on the receipt of most depressing news, viz., that we had to hold out for some time longer, possibly six weeks or so. This, added to the fact that one had to conceal one's own feelings as much as possible from the men, and also from the nurses, and the fearful heat of the days, served to make one sorely depressed. However, I am thankful to say that I had a certain amount of manual labour to keep me occupied. Amongst other things the water supply for the camp was most inefficient and bad, and I did what I could to reorganise this, and am glad to say was able to keep the supply of fresh drinking water up to the demand.
On 21st December General Hunter came out and visited the camp. We also received news of the battle of Colenso, which helped to drive our spirits down to zero.
On the 23rd I felt rather seedy, and from now on to the end of the siege I was not fit for very much, worse luck. Our Christmas Day was indeed a curious one. There was no service in camp, but in the evening some hymns were sung to the accompaniment of shells from Long Tom on Bulwana. In the evening we had a Christmas dinner, which was a sort of expiring effort on the part of those entrusted with the culinary operations, but was, I believe, a grand success. McLachlan and I shared a bottle of " bubbly wine," which was most generously and kindly sent out to us from the Regiment, and much did we appreciate it.
On the night of the 29th the Boers turned their searchlight into the camp for the first time.
1900 was ushered in to the tune of guns, Colenso way, which was a good sign for the new year, but there was very little news to be gleaned just now, and life was terribly tedious and monotonous. At 3.30 a.m. on Saturday, the 6th January, we heard the reports and saw the flashes of the Boer rifles and guns, as well as our own, as the attack on Caesar's camp commenced. A terrible fusilade was kept up all day, and our anxiety to know the result was intense. The next day we heard a certain amount, but it was not till some days afterwards that we learnt of the severity and determination of the Boer attack and the gallant defence made by the garrison. When eventually we heard further details and the severity of the death roll, our grief at the loss of so many real good friends was somewhat mollified by the reports of the excellent work the Regiment had performed during the day. Wood most kindly sent me a graphic account of the whole action, as did Dugdale too. The severe knock the Boers took had the excellent effect of keeping them more or less quiet for the next few days, and there was little firing.
On the nth January we heard of the gracious message sent to the garrison by Her Majesty the Queen. Rumours were very frequent now, and on the 16th January there was a very strong one that the camp of the relief column could be distinctly seen from Waggon Hill. Would that it had been so. Firing towards Colenso was heard daily, and on 18th January, about 4.30 p.m., the heaviest cannonade that we had up to the present heard from that direction commenced, and continued with the greatest violence for three-quarters of an hour. From now on our hopes ran very high, and every day the news got better and better, so much so that after the incessant firing we heard on the morning of the 24th January, which started at 3.30 a.m. and kept on continuously till 11.30 a.m., relief was only a question of days, and finally only a question of hours.
There was, however, a strange and irksome delay and absence of news on Friday, the 26th January, and at last, on Sunday, 28th January, our hopes, which till then had remained at boiling point, suddenly sank to zero, and far below, as we then heard that Spion Kop, which had been won on the 24th instant, was lost to us. Knowing, as one knows, what feelings of depression and consternation this loss filled people at home with, can it be wondered at that the effect on the sick at Intombi was disastrous. Men, who up to now had been buoyed up with hopes and had lived on from day to day in the hope of immediate relief, seemed to entirely " chuck up the sponge,*' and the mortality throughout the camp was gruesomely and depressingly heavy. A strong will was indeed a thing to be thankful for, as it did more to prolong one's existence than the effect of any drug on the shattered and emaciated frames of the poor souls, whom ill-fate had ordained should be inmates of this delightful and salubrious spot.
From now on rumours and counter rumours flew about daily, and it was impossible to gather anything definite one way or another, but the most significant fact was the further reduction of the rations (such as they were) for the sick. Half a pound of bread per diem made from sour mealies, with an unlimited amount of horseflesh, are hardly the best hospital comforts for men in the last stages of scurvy, dysentery, and enteric; however, it was either that or nothing. On the morning of 5th February our hopes again began' to revive as the welcome sound of gun's from Colenso was once more heard, and on 7th February it was distinctly nearer. On 10th February the only news" we heard was' that Buller was too busy to send us any, which was most excellent.
The weather just now was most oppressively hot, and, I fear, told considerably on us. , On Sunday, 18th February, there was more very heavy firing from Colenso direction, and the fact of it being Sunday made it more than ever welcome. On the evening of 19th February the camp was swept by a very violent storm of rain and wind, and as usual some of the marquees collapsed, and, I fear, put " paid " to the account of many a poor man.
On 21st February our guns fired very heavily into the nek, where the Klip River runs out towards Colenso. We learnt afterwards that this firing was directed against the Boers who were working on the dam, which they were building across the river at this point, presumably with the intention of first of all flooding us out at Intombi, and eventually of submerging the whole of Ladysmith. It was a mercy that this ingenious scheme of theirs was effectually frustrated by our relief, otherwise the consequences might have been disastrous. This same day we heard the extraordinary rumour that the whole of the Ladysmith garrison, as soon as it was liberated, was to be sent either to India, the Mediterranean, or home. Subsequent events, however, effectually put a stop to any such piece of good luck for some time.
On Thursday, 22nd February, we heard of the capture of Cingolo and Monte Christo, which cheered us up immensely, but there was still a terrible wave of depression over the whole camp. The following day there were more good signs, viz., our naval twelve pounder and 4.7 guns fired many rounds at the men working on the dam, and also the bread ration was again increased. The next two days brought no fresh developments, but on Monday, 26th, the firing was distinctly nearer, and apparently there was much betting in the town as to the actual date of our relief. The odds were four to one that it would be at midnight on Sunday, 4th March. On Tuesday, 27th, we heard of the capture of Cronje by Lord Roberts, and on Wednesday, 28th February, 1900, we had the unique experience and unbounded satisfaction of seeing a small body of our own troops,—we learnt afterwards they were 200 men of the Natal Carabineers and Natal Police,—come down the hills by the civil camp and gallop on towards Ladysmith. We then knew we were at last free men again, after 118 days of inaction and ennui. The following day, Thursday, 1st March, we had the gratification of seeing Buller himself and his magnificent army march through the camp on their way to Ladysmith.
As regards the ultimate fate of Intombi, and the time it took to remove all traces of it, I know nothing, as six days after our relief I bade goodbye to it, and was on my way down country en route for England. There is, however, one trace there which will remain, I trusty for ever, and that is the all too sorrowful collection of white crosses and mounds in God's acre. These mark the last resting place of many a brave man who gave his life, not only in combating the onslaughts of the Boers and helping " to keep the flag flying," but also of those whose fate it was to be struck down by the hand of that far more deadly enemy, disease.